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Chickenhawk is an epithet used in American politics to criticize a politician, bureaucrat, or commentator who votes for war, supports war, commands a war, or develops war policy, but has not personally served in the military, especially one who opted out of a previous war on dubious grounds. The term is generally used in the ad hominem circumstantial context: since a so-called "chickenhawk" has not served in war, the implication is that that person is ill-equipped to support a war. This is usually argued to be the case because of the "chickenhawk's" lack of experience with the true costs of war, or the "chickenhawk's" perceived hypocrisy and lack of moral standing to force others to risk death or injury when they were not willing to risk their own life and limb when given the chance. Being a Chickenhawk is behavior consistent with being a late 20th century American conservative because it involves shifting costs onto others while retaining benefits.

An alternative defintion is that a Chickenhawk is "A person enthusiastic about war, provided someone else fights it; particularly when that enthusiasm is undimmed by personal experience with war; most emphatically when that lack of experience came in spite of ample opportunity in that person's youth." Source: Chickenhawk Database



Chickenhawk is a compound of "chicken" as in "coward" and "hawk" as in "pro-war," thus a chickenhawk is someone who is in favor of a war as long as someone else does the fighting and dying. While the term may have been used as early as the World War II era, its use was revived circa 1992 in a newsgroup post and later in the printed media on November 15, 2000 article by journalist Richard Roeper in the Chicago Sun-Times. He criticized what, in his opinion, was George W. Bush's "chickenhawk stance on the Vietnam War." The term may have been used before that date during campaigning for the 2000 U.S. Presidential election—opponents of Dick Cheney, who never served in the United States armed forces, were upset by his criticism of the Clinton Administration's military policies. Bill Clinton himself not only never fought in combat, he is actually the only U.S. president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt to never have served in the military at all.

Chickenhawk counterarguments

War supporters who have not served in the military have made a number of counterarguments that, they claim, expose fallacies in the chickenhawk argument. Among these points are

  • The Founding Fathers explicitly designed the government of the United States of America so that the military would be subordinate to the will of the people through their elected representatives and the President of the United States of America who are answerable to the ordinary citizenry and the clear implication of the chickenhawk argument is that there ought not to be civilian control of the military.
  • The idea that a military veteran would have an inherent moral superiority with regard to military matters is baseless because a majority of veterans never experience actual combat and those veterans with combat experience might have a distorted perception and pathological attraction to war because they enjoyed the experience of combat violence.
  • Modern warfare is enormous in scale and complexity. The idea that miltiary experience helps one fully understand it is silly.
  • If only veterans can advocate war, then only veterans have the experience and moral standing to oppose war.
  • The Chickenhawk argument does not, by its nature, respond to the substance of the hawks' arguments.
  • That civilians who are explicitly targeted in war should have the right to voice their views on the conduct of war regardless of whether or not they have served in the military.
  • That a majority of the voting public is ineligible or unlikely to serve in combat, as it usually includes women, children, the elderly, men over age 50, the disabled, and homosexuals. Using service as a litmus test for voicing a viewpoint would invalidate the views of most of the nation.
  • That President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proved to be an extremely capable leader in the most important war in the American history despite having no had personal military experience.
  • That the argument is an example of illogical Special Pleading. Thus extending the Chickenhawk argument to other policy debates would mean that only women should comment on ovarian cancer, only men on prostate cancer, and so forth.
  • Double standard. Many point to the fact that use of the term is applied hypocritically and not equally by political liberals, notably as to Bill Clinton who avoided the draft during the Vietnam War by literally leaving the Western Hemisphere but ordered US soldiers to fight in numerous armed conflicts. (It should be noted that many have argued that Clinton's presidency proves that the American voters do not care about a politician's military service or lack thereof since Clinton defeated two World War Two war heroes despite his complete lack of military service and intentional avoidance of the draft.)

Members of the Chickenhawk Brigade include:

See Also

People mistaken for Combat Veterans

Further reading

External links

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